Monday, 7 February 2011

The Demands of Friendship

I always stress how important it is for Singles to have friends and friendly acquaintances, to get out there (or at very least into the blogosphere here) and be a presence in the community or communities. If you live in a small village or tiny Catholic community, then it is a good idea to travel a bit or surf the web to make more acquaintances and potential friends. As Singles, you have more freedom to do that than married people, especially married people with children.

Recently I got an email from a long-term Single reader puzzling out her friend situation. She mentioned a good female friend, a soul mate, who is married with two children. When the second baby was born, the friend said she didn't have any time to get together, or even email. She had time only for Facebook.

Now, my brother has two babies under three, and one of my best friends has one baby under two, and a friend in Scotland has a baby under one. Thus, I understand where your fellow reader's married friend is coming from. She literally has only enough social time for Facebook, possibly between 2 AM and 3 AM, the only time she can be relatively sure both her children are asleep.

Your fellow reader, unsurprisingly, is disappointed that her friend--torn between the demands of husband and two separate children--has no time to meet or even email her. But what surprises me, is that instead of meeting her friend on Facebook, the only place she can, she dissed Facebook relationships as shallow. Speaking as someone who lives across the ocean from most of the people she knows, I love Facebook. It never occured to me that it was shallow. For me it is a magic window that helps me keep tabs on 150 people. I hope your fellow reader changes her mind. Facebook isn't everything, of course, but it is better than nothing.

One problem in Single life is expecting everything or nothing. A Single might go to a Catholic singles event expecting to see a host of good-looking, smiling Catholic bachelors from whom she might pick a future boyfriend or even husband, and be horribly disappointed to see only a few ordinary-looking Catholic men talking to their friends or lingering at the buffet table. The next time she won't go at all because, she says, there is no point. In so doing, she has missed out on a chance to make some acquaintances, to hand out her business card, maybe to meet someone who might make a good friend, and at very least to hear an interesting lecture and drink a fine glass of beer in company.

When it comes to ordinary social life--I'm not talking about courtship here--you take what people can offer. If your married girlfriend says she can't come out dancing, but she can host a tea party, you go to the tea party. If your married guy friend says he can't get out for a guys' night until May, you arrange a guys' night for May. If he cancels because his kid is sick, you reschedule. If you want to be or remain friends with people, you have to meet them where they are. It is very important for childless Singles--and I include male and female religious in this--to remember that married people are not as free as you are.

The last thing a young mother needs--a young mother with one or two almost-perpetually screaming babies, and a huge hamper of dirty laundry, and a husband who wistfully wonders where the loving has gone, and a boss or mother-in-law who tells her that she looks tired in a slightly accusatory way--is yet another person making her feel bad for not living up to their demands.

Be kind and merciful to your young married friends. Invite them to events, and be happy and welcoming when they accept and show up, but don't bank on them accepting and showing up, especially if they have children.

Now that I am married, not Single, I have figured out why married people have dinners without Singles or conversations that make Single people feel left out. Married women, for example, don't often have time to meet up even with each other. I was horrified the other night to discover that a set of my friends get together now only four times a year, tops. Some are married now, and some are very busy Singles. And here was me, over in Scotland, fondly thinking they were getting together for cocktails every Friday, going to gether for pedicures, etc., etc. Apparently not.

And one thing about having a few recently married women in a car being driven by a Single woman, as happened on Saturday night: the marrieds, including me, all talked about how we argue with our husbands. I don't mean what we argue about, but why and how we argue. For example, when each of us gets upset about something, our husbands tell us we shouldn't be so upset, and then we get even more upset because we think our husbands are attacking our right to be upset.

When we marrieds, who really can't talk about this with anyone else, discovered we shared the same pattern, we all laughed merrily. It was such a relief to say it to our closest friends, and to realize that this sort of argument was completely normal to our collective married experience. But the conversation did, of course, leave out the driver. I am hoping she was too busy dealing with traffic during a blizzard to notice.

It is important to have friends in your state of life. So if sometimes you are not invited to a married lady party, understand that sometimes married ladies need to chat about married lady stuff without worrying about hurting Single girls' feelings. Don't let this keep you, however, from inviting married friends to stuff you yourself arrange or at very least to be your Facebook friends. One thing I keep hearing from busy young marrieds and mothers is how much they really miss their friends.


berenike said...

I am almost 110% certain the married friend has time for social life if social life involves sitting down with a cup of tea while you cook dinner/wash the floor/shoogle crying baby/...

At least mine do, and I have no problem with housework so long as it's not my own!

Andrea said...

"The last thing a young mother needs--a young mother with one or two almost-perpetually screaming babies, and a huge hamper of dirty laundry, and a husband who wistfully wonders where the loving has gone, and a boss or mother-in-law who tells her that she looks tired in a slightly accusatory way--is yet another person making her feel bad for not living up to their demands."
Very well put! No one needs a friend making them feel guilty, no matter the reason for the distance. I find my best friends in life are the ones with whom I can go a long time without talking but when we finally get in touch, certainly no time is taken up with "Why didn't you contact me earlier??"

Ginger said...

I am having a bit of trouble in the friend department, actually... I'm 19, in a new town, with very few people my age. The people I work with are all around 10 years older than me, and all are married. I won't be in school again until this fall. I have one close male friend here, but, I think the issues with that are probably clear. I love hanging out with him, but having him as my only friend is obviously problematic.

For one thing, he actually has a full blown social life here and is often with other guys (unfortunately none of whom I would be interested in being introduced to as a potential date) and also, there's the normal guy-as-friend problems (i.e. going out alone often looks like dating, and worse, FEELS like dating and I worry about my own attachments)

I've never had trouble making friends once the opportunity presented itself, but I have had scarce opportunities lately and don't really know where to start...

Kate P said...

Some people have good reasons for not being on Facebook, like job-hunting or privacy concerns.

You said, "Be kind and merciful to your young married friends. Invite them to events, . . . but don't bank on them accepting and showing up, especially if they have children."

O.K., so let me play single person's advocate here, and ask: How much "not showing up" by married/parenting friends are we singles expected to excuse? Everything? If Facebook's the next best thing to being there, then why get together?

And what about long-distance married/parenting friends who have fallen off the face of the earth and don't respond to any messages? You can't just invite them over. (Not that they'd come, right?)

talitha cumi said...

Good post. The way I see it is, single people are more flexible time- and activity-wise, so it's up to us to be understanding and meet our married friends where they are. It's a lot easier for me to hop into my car and drive to a friend's house than for her to pack her 2-5 kids into the van, pack a diaper bag, worry about meals and snacks and nap times, and drive down to my tiny apartment only to spend the whole time worrying that one of her children disturb the neighbours or break something of mine. At 30 years old, I find I don't really enjoy going out a whole lot anyway, and honestly much prefer a comfortable evening at my friends' house with a glass of wine, good conversation going on and small children underfoot. I suppose it doesn't hurt that, having grown up with a pack of brothers, I tend to get along well with my friends' husbands as well.
Turn the situation to your advantage; get to know your married friends' spouses, children, friends. I was lucky enough to win the affection of my best friend's youngest when she was only a few weeks old, and we've been unusually close ever since. Now, at 2 1/2 years old, she comes running at me, shrieking my name, to give me a hug (and nearly knock me over) every time I go to their house. It's heaven. Sometimes, after a particularly rough day at work or in the throes of a low mood and worry about my directionless life, spending an evening laughing with my friend and her husband and having that baby cuddle with me to love and be loved is the BEST THING IN THE WORLD. So many times I've gone there feeling so stressed I can hardly breathe or trying to hide a rotten mood or sadness over a failed relationship, only to come away feeling so much better, happier, human again. There is nothing like the unconditional love of a small, beautiful (and, in this case, unusually comedic) child for healing one's adult and sometimes rather bruised heart.
So visit your married friends. Bring food. Hold the baby and help to appease the 3-year-old whose toy got broken. And chat with your friends, who also crave adult conversation and news from the outside world.
Oh, and Ginger? I was in your shoes a few years ago. Get to know the elderly lady at your parish who knows everyone (every parish has one), and she'll introduce you to people. It works.

Seraphic said...

Talitha, thanks for that!

Kate P, I don't think anybody would say that Facebook is the next best thing to being there. What it is, is better than nothing.

Happily, there are controls on Facebook, and you can accept or refuse Facebook friends as you like. You don't have to put on photos, and if someone puts up a photo of you on their own blog with your name attached, you can remove the name (and of course ask the person to take the entire photo down, and if they don't, inform Facebook staff). There are a variety of security options.

I think Talitha wrote a comment much better than anything I can say tonight. But I will say that whether or not you stay friends with people who can't or won't come to see you or can't or won't email or call you is entirely up to you. But they do have to put their spouses, their children and their families first; they almost don't have a choice, and if they put their old friends above their spouses and children and aging parents, they'd be making the wrong choice.

Seraphic said...

And I guess I should say--although I don't like to end on a down note--that some friendships go dormant for years and some even draw to a close, for many reasons. Of course you don't have to keep on sending out invitations that get turned down. You can limit yourself to Christmas cards, and even then you can update your list from year to year, dropping some names, and adding others. It's up to you.

No-one can force you to keep a friendship alive, and you can't force others to keep a friendship alive. But friendships take work and patience all the same, so you have to decide for yourself what you are willing to do to keep a particular friendship at all alive.

Personally, I go home to Canada at least once a year, I keep a Facebook profile, I send Christmas cards, and I send my best girlfriends little gifts.

Catholic Pen said...

Let it be said first that I agree with the post and that single people are more flexible--I have done that and am more than happy to go over and hang out with a friend and her kid--it is usually a fun night!

The thing that I struggle with are the "married woman's groups". In my thirties, I have had about 10 years of being shut out of the married women groups, invites, bible studies, etc. It is very painful at times, especially when some of my good friends--women I love, are part of these groups. I always felt that I would be able to handle not being in a particular conversation or more than one conversation about married life if I were to be in the company of these women during one of their groups.

As many of my friends along the years, have joined the ranks of the married people--I felt the separation even more. I know this is not what the women are trying to do, but it feels like I will be less of a woman until I get married.

And then there are the women I would love to get to know, but since I am not in the married woman club(figuratively speaking) they don't even think of it.
I guess that part of the post hit a sore spot, and it is something that I think I may just have to offer up, but I thought I'd share.

On another note, I had a nice dinner and chat with another single friend last night. She is about 15 years older that me and is struggling with how long she has had to wait. I hope that our time together was a lift to her spirit. It also reminded me that I need to pray for my single friends--they are searching and hoping in the same way as me and need the strength that comes from prayer and lifting them up to God.

Seraphic said...

Catholic Pen, thank you very much for your comment. I am sorry you're feeling left out. You ARE being left out, and that's not fair.

Parishes have GOT TO GET IT TOGETHER for adult Single people!!! For example, if priests don't start talking about the fact that they are not just priests but Singles I will go insane.

I had not heard of "married women's groups" before. The big Catholic women's group in these here (Canadian) parts is the Catholic Women's League, and you don't have to be married to be in it.

If there are nothing but married women's groups for women where you are, then someone has dropped the ball somewhere. Can YOU start a Catholic women's group? Stress that it is a group for all Catholic women between whatever ages, and whatever state in life. Never marrieds. Marrieds. Nuns. Widows. If you know your parish preist, why not talk to him about this?

As I said, I can understand married women needing to let their hair down with other married women from time to time, but a systematic exclusion of Single women is simply wrong--and shortsighted! Most women outlive our husbands; who will teach us that we will survive as Single women if not other Single women?

Catholic Pen said...

Thanks for your response, Seraphic!
I hope I didn't come off as whiny, and I do have a great group of friends-but I have always been puzzled by this happening. I have thought of starting a group before, especially when I have expressed this concern to some of the married women referred to, but I think the idea most have given is well then why don't you start a single woman's bible study (the married women's group started as a married women's bible study so that was the suggested thing for me to do). The problem with that is when people get married they leave the group and then it falls apart. I like the idea of having a group for all stages of life.

I will have to give some thought to starting a woman's group of all parts of life--maybe if I start looking and thinking about I will discover others that feel the same or a group started somewhere. The

Not that this should stop me, but my worry is the married women will say--too busy we already have our group. However, I know fear and worry should not keep us from doing things.

I too appreciate the need for married women to commiserate with each other, so that definately isn't issue. I think women can and should support each other in all stages of life--and I know it comes in different forms.

Seraphic said...

You weren't whiny at all. You stated something very true, and it inspired this morning's blogpost!

Although people do need to touch base with people who do share their own state in life, other people should not be systematically excluded from social life.

Married women have lessons to share with Single women, and Single women have lessons to share with Married Women. We're all poorer when we limit our friendships to just those people in our state in life. Even cloistered nuns write to their friends "outside".